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Tidings file photoHomeless people line up to enter the Pioneer Hall homeless shelter.

One Site committee eyes East Main site as prime shelter candidate

With the mid-November shelter opening day fast approaching, the search for a single winter homeless shelter appears now to focus on two spots that could share the duty: a former church on East Main Street that’s currently vacant, and the Presbyterian Church at Walker and Siskiyou Boulevard, which has been running its own shelter for many years.

A group called One Site, a collection of social activists and volunteers, has been working on finding or creating a spot exclusively devoted to the homeless and that meets extensive and expensive requirements for fire sprinklers and complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The search has also been hampered by a hot real estate market, in which prospective properties tend to sell quickly.

One that sold fast is the former Rogue Valley (Baptist) Church at 2082 East Main St., which is now in escrow. However, said Phil Johncock, coordinator of One Site, says the new owner doesn’t plan to develop the site for three years and “it’s our best option.” The Presbyterian site would be good for three nights a week, he adds, and the search for one site will go on, with city leaders joining in.

Compliance on sprinklers would cost an estimated $45,000 with ADA bathrooms running $15,000. This also might be required at the Presbyterian site, Johncock says. Also unsettled is the number of nights the East Main site might be available, but, he adds, “our best choice is East Main for seven nights from mid-November through mid-April.”

The East Main church building, now owned by Doug Irvine, owner of Irvine & Roberts Winery on Emigrant Creek Road, is in the county and would comply with its fire codes, said Johncock.

The search was triggered when the city said Pioneer Hall on Winburn Way would no longer available due to the need for hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades to bring it into compliance with codes designed to ensure the safety of people staying in buildings offering overnight lodging.

Several area churches have offered space in the past but, Johncock said, only the Presbyterian Church is now offering space (for Fridays through Sundays), but other faith communities can provide volunteers to spend nights in shelters. Volunteer Vanessa Houk said the Methodist Church on Laurel at North Main may be available for two nights a week.

Some of the group examined the barn on the former Hardesty property on lower Oak Street by the Greenway, recently purchased by the city, but the need for repairs and fire-extinguishing sprinklers ruled it out due to the need to have work done in the next few months. Committee members also toured the East Main church, noting it has a kitchen and might have space for a women-children unit, though it lacks sprinklers.

The old Briscoe Elementary School building on North Main and Laurel Streets, recently bought by the city, presented too many complications and improvement needs — and the city hasn’t settled on its purpose, they said.

“I hope one site can still happen,” said Johncock, “and from my perspective, it’s looking pretty good. I’m more optimistic than a month ago. The city has a group of five (city officials) working on it and the council will study it Aug. 21. We talked about the city supporting four nights a week, but that hasn’t been defined or approved yet.”

Donations to the shelter may be made to Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland, P.O. Box 1133, Ashland, OR 97520 — or by using amazon.Smile.com. They donate one-half of one percent of your shopping purchase. OHRA recently received a $25,000 grant from ACCESS to hire a volunteer coordinator. They got 43 applicants for the job.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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